Sonic Ethnography is a practice-based course offered through the Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. In the course, students record, edit and produce anthropologically informed audio works that interpret culture and lived experience. In their projects, students experiment with technical and conceptual strategies of recording and composition, and engage with questions of ethnographic representation through the sensory dimension of sound. The course was taught for the first time in the Spring of 2013, led by sound artist Ernst Karel with teaching assistant Peter McMurray. The pieces in this broadcast are final projects from that semester, and first aired at the end of the semester on WHRB-FM.
Listening is of course fundamentally important to anthropological practice, as is sight, and yet ethnographies tend to rely on a very attenuated acoustic manifestation of culture: transcribed dialogue. Projects in this course look beyond conventional linguistic or musical codes, and consider sounds whose semiotic or affective value may be less immediately evident. The course is experimental in its approach, and is driven by fundamental questions about the relationship between sensory experience and our understandings of people or of place. The course raises questions such as, what facets of culture and lived experience can be rendered in and through sound?